Welcome to the first Robin Miller Mailbag as presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based company at http://hpd.honda.com/ and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD . Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to email@example.com We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you.
Q: Since it’s May, I think we should look back and think of some things that used to be a tradition but fell by the wayside. Such as: “Gypsy Mitch”s annual corn on the cob fest in May and the ice cold watermelon at the Hoosier Hundred. Mom Unser’s chili. The “Last Row” Party. Bars inside Gasoline Alley (aka: Jim Hurtubise’s garage). Uncle Bobby’s Valet Service (aka destroying rent a cars and parking Roger Penske’s rental car in the swimming pool!) Foyt and his niblings making life Hell for the English guys (aka: Furinner’s), usually the Team Lotus, Lola, McLaren, Brabham and Firestone crews, until he had them. “Training films” shown nightly inside the garages. Slamming a “knock-off hub” hammer against the side of a 200-gallon fuel tank while the newbies scraped the rust/grunge off of the insides. Scam phone calls to the pay phones (ie: in 1995, “Roger Penske, there’s a phone call for you from Dr. Jack Kevorkian holding in booth number three!”).
RM: Well, it sounds like you were around for most of them and sadly, that kind of fun doesn’t seem to exist anymore. (How about Mario duct-taping Bobby Unser inside a phone booth?) There was talk of bringing the original Last Row Party out of mothballs but it never happened. And that classic page, compliments of the late Scott Roembke and Tim Cindric, said: “Dr. Jack Kevorkian please to go the Penske garage immediately” after The Captain’s cars missed the show.
Q: Boy, for another year getting 33 cars to enter the 500 is headline news. How we have fallen. How many years of this will it take to get the rules opened up as they used to be and Bump Day will be more than seeing who is last on the grid? On a brighter note, it does seem there may be more hope for the road course than you were thinking and that would be a good thing.
Tom in Waco
RM: Yeah, when you think about Chuck Rodee, Mike Spence, Jim Malloy, Art Pollard, Gordon Smiley, Jovy Marcelo, Scott Brayton and all the old-timers who lost their lives trying to get up to speed or make the show, it hits home how sad it is that all you have to do nowadays is show up and you’re in the race. But IMS did a nice job of re-doing the road course and Saturday’s race should be a good one.
Q: I just realized today that we’re in the month of May: don’t judge, I’m a student living in finals time, and was thus greeted with a flood of recent Indy memories: Helio’s beautiful win in 2009, the fuel mileage tension and excitement of 2010, Wheldon’s dramatic win in 2011 (as a British Indy fan need I say more?), Sato’s attempted heroics in 2012, three-wide into the final green last year, and 2014.
Well, it’s my first 500 with the knowledge of Racer.com so it’s gonna be a great month, so… don’t let me down Robin! Not necessarily a question but a shout out from the small British IndyCar fans: my pick for the individual to be socially allowed to consciously dump cow lactate onto their head is Marco Andretti – fast team and he’s good on ovals. For the Indy Grand Prix, I have a hunch it’s Pagenaud or Wilson; both those guys are due for a good result this year already. Kind regards, love this race so much, it’s so much better than the diamond-encrusted procession in Monaco taking place on the same day.
Will Brown, Cambridge, UK
RM: Glad to know IndyCar has UK fans and thanks for reading RACER.com. As for Marco, I’ve picked him to win Indy the past two years and he was the fastest on the superspeedways in 2013, so no reason to think he won’t be contending again. Briscoe and Bourdais looked stout in the GP Indy test but Pagenaud is always lurking. Wilson would be a popular winner.
Q: Regarding the confusion over this week’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis: There is another event on the schedule for August called the Red Bull Indianapolis GP. Add in the previous Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix and the bad memories of “tire gate” and no surprise some fans are confused and/or skeptical.
Mark in Centerville, Ohio
RM: Yes they are. Tony Kanaan went shopping last weekend in Indianapolis and three people in three different stores asked him if he was running in the “Grand Prix” at the Speedway?
Q: I note that the boxes for the standing starts are still on the Indy front straight from the F1 days. Will the Indy road race have a standing start?
Bill Carsey, North Olmsted
RM: It certainly will.
Q: Last year my wife and I went to our first 500 in over 10 years, but don’t feel like going back after the fiasco of trying to get inside the gates. Granted, security was a concern after the Marathon bombing, but we arrived way early and still waited in line (without a cooler) for an hour and a half before joining the crowd bum-rushing past the elderly security staff manning the gates as pregame was starting. Has IMS announced any plans to fix things this year?
Brian in Ft. Wayne
RM: IMS management assures us that steps have been taken to make sure 2013 is NEVER repeated. But I think it cost them quite a few fans.
Q: How about a letter/e-mail campaign to have the GP of Indy renamed to the Dan Wheldon Classic?
Mike in GB
RM: Well, I’m all for calling it something different but I think the winner could easily get the DW Trophy.
Q: First, a shout-out to Dave Darland! Two USAC sprint car victories so far this season and only three away from tying Tom Bigelow’s all time record. Still getting it done! Second, to all the Indy Car fans during the GP of Indianapolis, take time to watch or otherwise follow the top runners of the USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights races. Two races to see them Indy GP weekend. Guys like Enerson, Pigot, Veach, Chaves and Brabham (all are American or raised in America in the case of Chaves), will be in the Indy 500 soon like Karam and Hawksworth are this year. Follow their progress now, so we will not have the case of whines next year that nobody has heard of the rookies.
RM: Darland is amazing and, like Kinser and Swindell, isn’t slowing down with age (plus he’s a great guy). Those kids you named are all talented and you just hope there’s a place for them down the road.
Q: I am very excited to hear about the new Turbine display at the IMS Museum. Do you know (or can you find out) how long these cars will be on display? I called the museum yesterday and spoke to a lady who didn’t know for sure, but thought probably through May and “maybe into June.” I am thinking about making a special trip just to see these cars but it would be nice to combine with the upcoming June vintage race weekend if the turbines will still be around.
Bob Olbers, Ellicott City, MD
RM: It opens May 8 with 11 turbines and will likely be around for a year. There is a cool 32-page brochure on the history of the turbine that you can pick up when you walk into the museum. Sounds like Parnelli, Mario and Vince Granatelli will be driving turbines on race morning.
Q: The Louisiana governor and others announced the first of possibly three IndyCar races at the club track located in Avondale, La. They indicated that 80,000 people will visit New Orleans and crowds race day of between 50,000 and 60,000. The state is putting some money in for infrastructure improvements, etc. As much as I like IndyCar, this has to be doomed to failure. The track is located in a hard-to-find location, with absolutely no surrounding amenities, such as decent food and motels. Additionally, the New Orleans media is totally in the dark about auto races, and especially IndyCar. The local college baseball games get much more press than car races, including NASCAR. Is IndyCar so desperate for races that they will choose short-term profit over long-term growth?
RM: I guess when you think about Elkhart Lake, Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio, they all fall in the category of “middle of nowhere” but road race fans didn’t care. IndyCar does need some big-city allies but, as we saw with Baltimore, good crowds don’t guarantee success, so I’m sure if the New Orleans race gets the green flag it will be a struggle to make it work over the long term.
Q: The potential of a race coming to the city of New Orleans is fantastic news! Many New Orleanians (along with transplanted Texans such as myself) are passionate about the Verizon IndyCar Series – its history, traditions, and future – and bringing what will undoubtedly be a fantastic event to the area is further proof to me the series is growing. AOWR needs and deserves a presence in one of America’s most interesting and diverse cities – a Southern city, no less – and I truly believe that if IndyCar gets it right, which I’m trusting more and more everyday they will, this (potential) event could be a staple on the circuit for many years to come. We know how to party down here in the Big Easy, and to me, there’s no bigger or better party than an IndyCar race weekend! See you at Indy (the real one) and Texas!
Daniel Pratt, NOLA, USA
RM: Obviously, if it was in downtown New Orleans it might have a better shot coming out of the gate – NOLA Motorsports Park is 20mins away. But if it’s marketed and promoted and there are shuttles or some kind of accommodations to move fans, it could catch on. But the South has always been a tough sell for Indy cars.
Q: What in the world is Mark Miles and the rest of IndyCar thinking with hosting a race at NOLA? Looking up videos of the AMA race there in 2012, the circuit looks terrible. Completely flat, very curvy, no passing zones really, no grandstands, no art or other attributes like Barber, the pit lane is suited for go-karts, and it appears to be half-finished. It comes off as a swamp with depressed asphalt on top. Is there any word on the incentive of such a race? I get there’s no rival motorsport there and a large potential market but why does it get the nod over a classic track or COTA? Anyway I hope the governor pumps some big bucks into little NOLA for the big leagues to speed in.
Henry M, LA
RM: Your description sounds accurate from what I’ve been told but the track designer, Alan Wilson, has an in-depth look at NOLA on RACER.com here, so if the government steps up, it could work.
Q: I think the idea of racing at NOLA in New Orleans sounds like a winner but IndyCar fans will immediately cry foul! Another road course without an oval in sight!
I believe that IndyCar should control its own destiny when it comes to oval track racing and never do business with ISC. We have a few ovals across the country that IndyCar could purchase for a song and then promote their own races and control every aspect of the event. We have tracks like Gateway, Nashville and Pikes Peak. I am sure there might be other tracks available out there.
RM: Other than Nashville (pictured, ABOVE), those other two didn’t draw very well and that’s the big problem with IndyCar and ovals right now – nobody seems to want to take a chance (except Fontana and Pocono). I’m still hopeful Pocono can make it to 50,000 in time because there are a lot of open-wheel fans in the East, but the choices are limited for IndyCar.
Q: What’s the latest on the chances of a race in Providence next year, as it seems to me like things have been silent on it for a few months. It really is a curse being a racing fan in New England. It still is frustrating that Loudon only gave IndyCar one year even though it rained that day, which kept the attendance down for the race. The last two years I have gone to Baltimore because I have family that lives there, but now that event is no more. And even Lime Rock no longer has ALMS or Grand-Am races because of the sports car merger.
I am considering going to the two IndyCar races in Toronto this summer. How does that event compare to Baltimore? Is it a good street circuit to be at live in person? I know there are other circuits that are better on the schedule, it just seems like Toronto would be easy to fly into, see the races, and fly back out just for the weekend.
RM: It’s all gone quiet in Providence, which is usually a bad sign, and I wish Loudon would have given IndyCar three years. Toronto is the second-longest running street race (1986) to Long Beach and while the track isn’t as racy as it once was there is still plenty of action at the end of the backstretch and going into Turn 1. The Canadian fans are passionate and knowledgeable, the food is great, the women are gorgeous and it’s always a good atmosphere. I highly recommend you try Toronto.
Q: I watched the NASCAR race in Richmond on Saturday night, and it was awesome! The race featured multiple passes for the lead on the track, multiple passes for the lead coming off pit, passing throughout the field all night long, and a multi-car shootout for the win in the closing laps. I don’t care who you are, it was a great race. While I understand that NASCAR and IndyCar are completely different animals, why on earth did IndyCar jump ship from Richmond? It’s a great track and seems to produce fantastic racing. My guess is that IndyCar would put on a great show at Richmond with the DW12. And, it seems like the kind of place where you could make a weekend of it with IndyCar, Indy Lights, and a USAC show. What gives?
Jay Matheny, Mayfield, KY
RM: The first couple IRL races at Richmond were excellent – two grooves and non-stop action. But then something changed (maybe the tire) and it suddenly became a parade. The crowd held true (estimated 35,000-40,000 each year) and it seemed to work for Indy cars and the promoter but nobody seems interested in giving it another try.
Q: Is there any way Indycar and NBCSN can agree to reshow a race when it is interrupted by weather? I was at a car show Sunday and came home excited to see the race. Instead, I got to watch 90 mintues of pre-race filler and 30 minutes of action until my DVR stopped recording at the scheduled end of the race. I doubt I was the only one. Very frustrating not to be able to find it in the wee hours of the rest of the week’s schedule.
Also, with Toyota announcing the move of their national headquarters from SoCal to Texas, will sponsorship become an issue for the Grand Prix of Long Beach?
Vincent Martinez, Arcadia, CA
RM: NBCSN always tries to re-air the IndyCar races whether they get rained out or not. They are usually on Monday or Tuesday after the race like Long Beach was. Barber did not have a programmed re-air slot because with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the schedule changes just about every night. But as soon as it cleared up a little Barber did re-air this past Friday night. It’s tough to get the word out on that, but it does get listed on NBC Sports.com.
As for Toyota, it’s the Southern California Toyota dealers that sponsor Long Beach so I don’t see any issues. And Honda would pounce on that race in a heartbeat if Toyota ever left.
Q: Is the plan to still bring back the apron for the Brickyard 400? What have IndyCar drivers said about the return of the apron for next year’s 500?
RM: That’s the last thing I heard but still not sure the apron will be used for the 2015 Indy 500. Drivers seemed divided on the subject but I would think you’d want more room to pass or escape bad push (watch Gordon Johncock during the last 10 laps of the 1982 Indy 500).
Q: I know the whole Michael Shank Racing switch from sports cars to IndyCars was a complete debacle, but given the chaos that has marked the first few races of the new IMSA/TUDOR SportsCar series, have you heard of any teams that might be looking to change or expand to the IndyCar Series for 2015 and beyond? Given how competitive the series has become since the introduction of the DW12 (in spite of how “ugly” some people seem to think it is), and with an outside chance of Cosworth coming back in with another engine partner, I would think it might be attractive to some of the sports car teams. Also, have you heard any numbers from Dallara or the Indy Lights series about how many of the new chassis have been ordered, which might give an indication of car counts for that series going forward?
Scott Cooper, Bargersville, IN
RM: I know Derrick Walker is hosting one ex-TUDOR regular at this month’s Indy 500 so I imagine there are one or two others looking at IndyCar. Tony Cotman says he’ll have a better idea of the new Lights car count by June 1.
Q: I came across this piece by Jeff Papone in the Globe & Mail. He makes some interesting points. Especially about how the shortened season may hurt IndyCar. True, it will no longer go head to head with the NFL, but with the long period between the end of one season until the start of the next one, people may just forget about IndyCar. I think it’s a very valid point. I wonder what your take is on this.
RM: First off, Jeff is a damn good writer and big proponent of Indy cars and you are right – his story makes a lot of good points. The IRL tried ending its season on Labor Day a few years ago and it made zero difference in anything. You need to stay on the map, not disappear for six months and I know Mark Miles has plans for foreign races to bridge the gap but that still doesn’t cure the identity problems here.
Q: Former Governor Mitch Daniels got added to the Hulman & Company board of directors but what does this mean for the board? Does the family still have a majority vote?
Joe Mullins, Lexington, KY
RM: The family hasn’t had a majority vote for a couple years.
Q: While I believe that Honda’s “Fastest Seat in Sports” is a great promotional idea, I think IndyCar could utilize other programs that are geared more toward the memorabilia aspect of their racing series. Sports memorabilia has always been a large segment of the “stick and ball” sports and IndyCar could have giveaways at each of their races of signed race-used driver equipment or pieces of the racecars themselves.
I’ve always wondered what happens to all the debris after an incident on the track. They could also give home viewers chances to participate by texting or logging on to the IndyCar website with a “winning word” during each race. I’m sure fans would cherish these souvenirs of the race weekend. After seeing the success of the “Billion Dollar Challenge” for this year’s NCAA tournament in terms of exposure on television, radio, and the internet I would like to see IndyCar have a similar (although not a billion dollars) contest in picking the finishing order of the Indy 500. The prize could be substantial enough to generate enough exposure on all means of communication to justify the cost of the grand prize. It might turn out to be the cheapest advertising in the history of IndyCar. I just thought you might like to ponder a non-racing issue for a change.
By the way, do you have any race memorabilia that you’ve collected throughout your racing career on and off the track. If so, what’s your favorite item? I still have a race-used piece of wing signed by Scott Sharp that sits on a shelf in my living room.
Brad, La Porte, IN
RM: I like your idea and a 50/50 drawing at Indy might net the winner $500,000. Broken racecar parts could always be sold and I’m always surprised Firestone doesn’t auction off its used tires after a race, but I guess it’s concerned about the wrong people taking one apart. I lost the STP pit board Jim Hurtubise gave me but I still have one of the first racing trophies Art Pollard ever won and Dan Gurney gave me a classic book on Jim Clark that’s a real keepsake. Somewhere I’ve got goggles from Herk, Johncock and Bud Tinglestad.
Q: Just read your article on George Bignotti in RACER magazine: The Heroes III (May) issue. I agree that he was the best. Not just because he won Indy seven times and had to deal with real characters like A.J. Graham Hill, Al, The Gas Man and Gordon Johncock, but he could successfully adapted to the changes between 1955-1993.Think about the changes for chief mechanic in that period! Here’s my two questions: who do you think was second to Bignotti during that time; Watson? Brawner? Curry? Or someone else? Also the article only mentioned George’s midget driving career. Do you have any details?
Gerry Courtney, San Francisco, CA
RM: Clint Brawner was Bignotti’s equal in many ways while Johnny Poulsen was a real good one. Jud Phillips and Jim McGee were sharp thinkers. A.J. Watson and Bill Finley were the two best all-around chief mechanics I ever saw because they could build a car and an engine with their own two hands. Howard Gilbert was a good mechanic and a great engine man and Clay Smith was very respected. Ditto for Wally Meskowski. All I know is that Bignotti won west coast midget races – just like Danny Oakes and Poulsen.
Q: Thanks for the great article in RACER magazine about George Bignotti. You know it looks like Big Al and Bobby could still race right now. If you owned a team, which one of the Unsers would you put in your car? Both totally different. I’m going Big Al. Very methodical. Bobby is go like hell. Both are great!
RM: That’s a good question. Uncle Bobby was fast and crafty, while Big Al was smooth and smart. And Junior drew from both of them. If you wanted to make headlines, you’d hire Bobby. If you wanted to make money, you’d hire Al. I’d flip a coin.
Q: I have three consecutive days available to watch Indiana Sprint Week. Based on a perfect weather forecast for the week, where would you recommend based on the fact I have never been to any of the tracks?
Brian, Pittsburgh, PA
RM: That’s too hard to answer because they’re all good tracks. Gas City, Kokomo and Lawrenceburg (July 11-12-13) kick things off before Terre Haute, Putnamville, Bloomington and Haubstadt (July 16-19). The first three are within a couple hours of each other while the next three are closer and you could stay in one hotel. Haubstadt is a hike from Indy but not bad from Terre Haute. How’s that for a non answer? Truth is, you can’t go wrong, early or late.
Q: My favorite racing has been F1 and Indy cars since I was a kid. You are my favorite reporter! I raced Formula Fords with Jim Russell late ’70s and early 80s. I just watched the “Top Five” on NASCAR.com for Talladega. Four out of five of them were crashes. What the hell is that?
Ted, Conway, MA
RM: Watch a replay of most NASCAR accidents and a lot of the fans are cheering and clapping as the cars are still sliding or flipping. That’s all you need to know. IndyCar highlights are Rathmann-Ward, Johncock-Mears, Hornish-Andretti or one of those insane IRL finishes.
Q: You actually said something nice about Ayrton Senna this week! Maybe because of the 20th anniversary of Imola. Anyway, sticking to this side of the pond, do you have any inside information from The Captain or Emmo or The Chrome Horn about Senna’s famous (but secretive) Indy car test at Firebird in 1992?
Larry Parker, Miami, Fla.
RM: There’s no denying his ability and I’ve changed my feeling since watching the “Senna” documentary again. After the hosing he got from Balestre, I don’t blame him for taking out Prost at Suzuka in 1990. As for the Firebird test, Emerson encouraged Senna to do it because Indy cars were more racecars than all the active suspension stuff in F1. Senna was damn fast in that test – faster than Emmo – and he loved the fact the car wasn’t over-teched but he didn’t like the thought of ovals.